Saffron Walden clubs pin hopes on new sporting complex

An artist's impression of the sports complex planned for Saffron Walden.

An artist's impression of the sports complex planned for Saffron Walden. - Credit: Archant

Blueprints have been released for a multi-purpose sports complex which could unearth Saffron Walden’s next generation of young talent.

A blueprint of the site plan for a sports complex off Thaxted Road.

A blueprint of the site plan for a sports complex off Thaxted Road. - Credit: Archant

The eagerly-anticipated plans, for 7.7 hectares of land off Thaxted Road, include an all-weather ­athletics track, two full-size rugby pitches and a clubhouse.

Two mini-pitches, a training pitch and a shelter for spectators form part of the proposal.

It would finally allow the rapidly-expanding Saffron Walden Rugby Club to move back into town from its Henham base and provide “top class facilities” for both WaldenTRI and the Saffron Striders running club.

The go-ahead for the scheme, which has been a year in the making and is expected to cost just under £5million, will depend on the outcome of a planning application to build 300 homes. This is expected to go before Uttlesford District Council’s planning committee at the end of this month.

If approved, it would see developer Kier Homes offer land for the sports complex in return for houses.

Rugby club chairman Ian McKernan told the Reporter the hope was to create a legacy for both London 2012 and next year’s Rugby World Cup.

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“For 50 years, the rugby club has been looking to move back into Saffron Walden but until now the land hasn’t been available,” he said.

“This is a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it would be remiss of us not to grab it with both hands.

“Ten years ago, we had 50-100 kids wanting to play rugby but this year it’s up to 400. We need to be in Saffron Walden for this club to grow.”

The rugby club has three senior teams and 10 junior squads ranging from under six to under 17. There is also a ladies/girls section which could not be developed because of the inadequate facilities at their Henham ground.

WaldenTRI president Derek Jones has been involved in trying to secure a running track for the town for more than three years.

He said: “This would be a top class facility and a huge gain for the community. It is more than just an idea now and we hope that not only will it help us unearth the stars of the future but also encourage people to get fit and healthy.

“We’ve got more than 100 youngsters on our waiting list – this will help us develop our junior section.”

Chris Dodge, Saffron Striders’ club development officer, said it would also allow his running club open up a youth section. Schools in the area were reportedly “excited” by the possibility of using the running track, said Mr Jones.

The land, which backs on to the Lord Butler Leisure Centre, would first have to be levelled but it is ­estimated the whole project will take two-three years from start to finish.

Funding would come from a ­combination of sources, including grants from Sport England and the Rugby Football Union (RFU), ­philanthropy, the sale of the rugby club’s assets in Henham and a share of the £500,000 financial contribution from Kier.

The proposal includes 82 car park spaces, plus a 73-space grass overspill car park, and floodlights for the athletics track.

The clubhouse will have six ­changing rooms, including a physio room and changing area for women, a bar and kitchen.

It follows last month’s revelation that 33 and 101 Engineer Regiments at Carver Barracks were looking into the possibility of ­building a new sporting facility at the Wimbish base.

The estimated £750,000 proposal, still in the early stages, is for an athletics track and synthetic sports pitch to be used by military ­personnel and civilians. It would be open to local hockey, football and running clubs if given the green light.